Friday, August 15, 2008

Mental Health - the last taboo?

Last weekend my sister came to stay. She wasn't in a good place, but although there were warning signs I wasn't alarmed enough to seek help. On Tuesday evening, whilst away at a training course, I got a call from another sister. She had been on the phone to my mother when someone had knocked on the door to say they had found Sarah very distressed in a nearby country lane. At this time it wasn't clear what had happened, but it soon became very clear.



Sarah (as I explained last year) has a history of mental health problems. A few weeks ago it appears her medication was changed, but with no monitoring. On Tuesday she had reached her wits end. She left a suicide note and went over to visit my parents. When she left she drove to a country lane and tried to take her life by attaching a hose pipe to her exhaust. Thankfully someone, the person who knocked on my mum's door, found her, and went for help. But in the mean time she believed she should gouge her eyes out. She is now in hospital, hopefully being stabilised. We are hopeful, but will have to wait to see if she has lost the sight in one of her eyes.



As you might imagine we have been devastated. However sick Sarah has been in the past she has never ever tried to hurt herself before, this is a frightening twist in her condition. Yet again we have come up against a system that seems to regard mental health care as a Cinderella service. Her medication was changed without informing anyone in the family and without any monitoring. Had she succeeded in taking her life, or even taking someone else's in that condition, no doubt there would have been much wringing of hands and platitudes and enquiries. The fact is, it seems the systems just aren't there either to protect patients or to protect the public.

She is now thankfully in a very nice and secure unit near the family. But, her greatest fear is to return to the unit I described last year. We have promised her she will not be sent back to that hell hole. Frankly I would sacrifice my political career by chaining myself to the railings or doing whatever else was necessary to stop that happening. Because of her injuries this is not on the cards for a couple of weeks, but yet again, patient choice does not extend to mental health services.

Mental health issues touch us all in some way or other. Most of us will have family or close friends who have suffered. Whilst we may have moved on in terms of our attitudes to disability, the same cannot be said with relation to mental health. At the Labour Party conference last year I collared Ivan Lewis (the minister responsible) about this. He agreed with me, particularly about my concerns about mixed wards in psychiatric units, but there wasn't anything he could do. So, what can we do? I am proud that this is an issue our party is prepared to speak out about. In a few weeks time when my sister hopefully will be home, there will still be thousands of our fellow citizens, already tormented and distressed because of their condition, whose condition will be exacerbated by a system that regards them as second or third class citizens. Sadly there are few votes in campaigning on mental health issues, but my, perhaps old fashioned view is, a society should be judged by how it treats those who are most vulnerable. Right now I don't think we are doing that well.

13 comments:

Laurence Boyce said...

I am so sorry Linda. I wish I could say something encouraging. I am just so sorry.

Steph Ashley said...

How terrifying for her and for everyone who loves her. And how sadly typical that she didn't have the access she sorely needed to emergency services, or consultation about her medication changing.

A friend of mine writes a blog detailing what life, and treatment, is like as a diagnosed manic depressive. I think it should be required reading for all politicians with a health portfolio, and a great many health professionals.

http://thesecretlifeofamanicdepressive.wordpress.com/

The Burbler said...

How awful, Linda! I will redouble my prayers for Sarah, you & your family.

Linda Jack said...

Dear Laurence Steph and Paul

Thanks so much for all your support, it is very comforting. Steph I will certainly visit your friends blog. It is quite personal for me to write about this, but as I say, it is still a taboo and one that needs challenging. As Sarah blames herself for what happens, however enlightened our society there is still an element of collective blame towards those who suffer like this. I have certainly been challenged that this is an issue I really should be campaigning on more.

Darrell G said...

Hiya Linda :),

My heart goes out to you as I have direct experience of similar things both for myself and from the people around me. I agree 100% that this is an issue we should be flagging up more...this is a more and more common problem and you are right that society should be judged that way and we dont do that well...

Good luck and all the best to you and your sister...

Susan said...

Linda - hugs to your sister and all your family. I too have suffered very badly in the past from PND and that is scary enough without it being a continued problem.

I have raised this issue on numerous occaions with the director of Audult Social Services - the lack of supprot from any Mental Health Trust or Social Services department for mental health issues....

I will join you in raising awareness and getting these issues sorted out because this is yet another vulnerable community forgotten by government!

If I can help....

Linda Jack said...

Thanks Darrell and Susan. I am going to email Norman Lamb about this and see what more we can do. I know there are groups like Mind who campaign, but generally there is so little progress. Last year when Sarah was in hospital even having an arsy older sister like me hardly made a dent! Imagine how awful it is for those who have noone looking out for them?

Andrew said...

Hi Linda,

Terribly sorry to hear about your sister.

The whole way we look at mental health issues as a society is warped. Just as you say, it is the last taboo, few would stand for the kind of treatment you describe if your sister was suffering from any other type of illness, so why do we put up with it for neurological illnesses?

Anyway, I thought you and others might like to have a look at some of the blogs from this list of the top 100 mental health, neuroscience and psychology related blogs.

Take care,

Andrew

Peter Blacks Cat said...

a valuabe post, thanks

Disillusioned said...

Mental health support here in Bedfordshire is very hit and miss as I know from personal experience. So much depends on who your contact is.

So sorry about your sister, and I hope she now gets the help she needs and deserves.

Mental health is such a poorly funded area, and carries such a lot of stigma. As an example of the underfunding, you have only to look at the lack of provision of talking therapies, despite their relatively low cost (and high success rate). It seems people are unwilling to even talk about it politically (look at how few politicians were prepared to admit publicly to having experienced mental illness first hand in the recent survey) let alone stand up and campaign for the needs and rights of the mentally unwell.

Andrew said...

Linda,

Another blog you may be interested in.

Cheers,

Andrew

Disillusioned said...

Some more blogs to give a flavour of what it is like to struggle on through mental illness:

http://colouredmind.wordpress.com/
http://fightingtheurge.wordpress.com/
http://silvawingz.wordpress.com/
http://mandylifeboatsahoy1.blogspot.com/
http://mindriddles.blogspot.com/
http://dumpedbyahallucination.wordpress.com/
http://thereandbacktoseehowfaritis.blogspot.com/

Tristan said...

You and your family have my sympathies, I know from experience how traumatic this can be for all involved.

Unfortunately mental health is not regarded by so many as important. Within the health professions its often treated as a second class area and simply one which can be dealt with by giving out pills (or its all just 'attention seeking' or people should just be locked up so you don't have to deal with them).

Those who work hard in the field are unfortunately held back by lack of resources and a system which seems to have more in common with the 19th Century asylums and freak shows than medical care.